News Politics

Community Leaders: Failing to Center Black Women, Women of Color Is a ‘Losing Strategy’ in Trump Era

Auditi Guha

It seems like common sense that women of color are the best suited to articulate solutions to the issues that directly affect them and their communities, but that doesn’t mean they’re centered in conversations among lawmakers about those issues.

The conversation around women’s rights often centers on fair pay, but a new report released Wednesday by the Roosevelt Institute and the Ms. Foundation for Women explains how that alone will not be enough for women of color—who, statistically, earn much less than their white counterparts—to achieve equal rights and opportunities. The report suggests that women of color must be at the forefront of movements to beat the inequities and injustices of the nation’s oppressive systems, which are riddled with sexism and racism.

The report, titled “Justice Doesn’t Trickle Down: How Racialized and Gendered Rules are Holding Women Back” comes as Black activists and community leaders are calling on the Democratic National Committee (DNC) to more intentionally support Black women’s political leadership.

Women of color are “at the greatest risk in the current political environment, in which conservatives are threatening a range of public services from health coverage to education access to financial regulations,” states Andrea Flynn, a fellow at the Roosevelt Institute and the report’s author, in the executive summary. “The inequities we describe throughout this paper make clear what women of color have to lose in this era of increasingly right-wing conservatism.”

After a campaign season filled with derogatory language about women, the Trump administration has taken steps to cut or reduce access to reproductive health-care services and programs that help abuse survivors. The budget rolled out this week “slashes Medicaid funding and housing assistance, guts funding to public schools, imposes work requirements on SNAP recipients, and gives tax cuts to the ultra-wealthy,” said Angélique Roché, vice president for external affairs at the Ms. Foundation, in an email to Rewire.

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This administration has “obscured the lived experiences of those who will be hardest hit by these policies—women, particularly women of color—while directly targeting them,” Roché said. “This is wholly at odds with our vision of a country that lifts up women’s voices and acknowledges the ways in which policies disproportionately impact women of color,” she added.

The report attributes the deep inequities women of color face, in economics, education, safety, and health, to “an outgrowth of a web of racialized and gendered rules—policies, institutions, and practices—that have emerged from the United States’ long history of racism and sexism.” 

The report discusses a wide range of disparities that women of color experience in the realm of economics, health, and safety. Divided into three parts, it focuses on the economic injustices they have faced in this country that have led to the current wage and wealth gap. Part two focuses on the violence they face—from immigration, law enforcement, and school pushout to the interpersonal violence and restrictions transgender and gender-nonconforming people face. Part three details the policies, barriers, and outcomes to their health, from lack of family planning services to toxic stress.

Women of color suffer higher levels of unemployment, are targeted by the criminal justice system at higher rates, have much less wealth, and are less likely to own a home than their white counterparts, the report notes.

“If we want to prevent this cycle from continuing, we must look to the work of women of color leaders who have long demonstrated the importance of simultaneously tackling economic, race and gender inequities,” the report reads.

It seems like common sense that women of color are the best suited to articulate solutions to the issues that directly affect them and their communities, but that doesn’t mean they’re centered in conversations among lawmakers about those issues.

On Wednesday, Black activists and community leaders wrote in an open letter to DNC Chair Tom Perez that it is high time the party invest in and include Black women’s political leadership, especially as they have consistently supported progressive policies, organized their communities, and shown up at the ballot box to overwhelmingly support Democrats.

Black women cast 11.4 million votes helping former President Barack Obama to win re-election in 2012, and 94 percent of Black women voted for former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton this past November, the letter notes. Black women recorded historic wins across the country in the 2016 election cycle, and the 115th Congress has the largest number of sitting Black women to date.

The letter’s signatories write that since Perez took office in February, he has met with various constituents but not a cohort of Black women leaders. “Organizing without the engagement of Black women will prove to be a losing strategy, and there is much too much at stake for the Democratic Party to ignore Black women,” the letter states.

As the most marginalized group in the country, women of color are primed to offer input and insights on how the government could move forward to help everyone by lifting up those most vulnerable. But all too often, it is our government that reinforces oppression, Roché said. “Changing our institutions is necessary to ensure greater justice, but that change isn’t sufficient. As organizations and individuals we must also work to build a broader coalition that intentionally puts women of color at the center,” she said.

For instance, Roché pointed out, millions of families with low incomes cannot afford quality childcare; only one in six children eligible for a child-care subsidy receives one. Meanwhile, minimum wage for tipped workers, who are primarily women, has been stuck at $2.13 an hour for more than 25 years. Roché pointed to the efforts of ROC United, a grantee partner of the Ms. Foundation for Women, to organize for the elimination of the tipped wage. “We know women would spend this money on their families and in their communities, which in turn boosts the economy for all. Several states have already instituted this, with no harm done to employers,” Roché said.

Released Wednesday, the 93-page report argues that policymakers need to learn from grassroots movements that center women of color and call for an intersectional approach to fulfilling their rights.

“Progressive policymakers should reject the recent calls to abandon identity politics in favor of a race- and gender-neutral approach that would simply exacerbate race and gender inequities and injustices,” it states. “Future policy agendas must be broader and deeper, including the racial and gender wealth gap as well as inequities in safety and health.”

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